Zane Grey: Biography & Books

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

Zane Grey was a popular American author renowned for his vivid western novels and captivating articles about the great outdoors. In this lesson, you will learn how Grey got his start as a writer and his immense contributions to American literature.

Early Life

If you were a writer, what you write about? How would you incorporate your passions and experiences into your books?

The popular western writer, Zane Grey, had an almost exclusive interest in three past times:

  • baseball
  • fishing
  • writing

He was born on January 31, 1872, but with a slightly different given name. His mother actually named him Pearl Zane Gray after Queen Victoria's favorite color pearl gray. When Zane became a writer later on in life, he ditched the 'Pearl' and changed the spelling of his last name from 'Gray' to 'Grey'.

He was such a baseball phenom that he was offered a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. While in school, he studied dentistry and graduated in 1896. Upon graduating he decided to put his career as a dentist on hold so he could play amateur baseball. After two years of playing ball, Grey started his dental practice in 1898.

Zane Grey in his college baseball uniform
Zane Grey Baseball

During that time, he had not forgotten about his third passion, fishing in the great outdoors. Whenever he had the chance, he would escape from his home in New York to Lackawaxen, PA where he fished on the river with his brothers. In 1900, at the age of 28, Grey met his future wife, a woman named Lina Elise Roth. Grey nicknamed her Dolly and the two became fast friends, despite his being 11 years her senior.

Writing Career

Zane Grey liked being a dentist, but he didn't love it. Dolly recognized that he was an exceptional writer and helped him to turn his passion into a career. In 1903, Grey finished his first book, entitled Betty Zane. The novel describes the heroic acts of one of Grey's relatives, a woman named Elizabeth Zane, who helped save Fort Henry during the Revolutionary War. It was not picked up by a publisher, so Dolly actually used her own money to have it printed. Within two years, the couple got married and Grey continued writing. His next book, The Spirit of the Border was published and marked the beginning of a successful writing career.

Zane Grey
Zane Grey portrait

To celebrate their marriage, Zane and Dolly went to the Grand Canyon on their honeymoon. Their trip proved life-changing for Grey. Traveling out west opened his eyes to an entirely new world of people and places to write about.

A year later, Grey became good friends with a man named 'Buffalo' Jones, a renowned conservationist. Grey went back to the Grand Canyon with Buffalo and wrote another novel, The Last of the Plainsmen that he published in 1908. Zane Grey published numerous books in the years following including The Heritage of the Desert and Riders of the Purple Sage (one of his most popular novels).

Grey's books captured the spirit of the West and the people that lived there. His books often featured strong male characters and a stereotypical 'damsel in distress'. Grey included various themes like love, internal and external challenges, and conflict between right and wrong.

Later Life

Zane Grey produced a new book annually and his writing was popular across the country. So popular, in fact, that he was on the top 10 bestseller list for nearly a decade.

He and his wife had three children, all born in New York, but Grey moved the family across the country to California in 1918. California had all sorts of outdoorsy activities and Grey could be closer to Hollywood. Over 40 of his books were made into movies and at one point, Grey even had his own production studio.

Zane Grey in Australia
Zane Grey in Australia

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